An opinion poll on the two most significant traits that distinguish the most effective leaders from the others, in both the political and corporate world, revealed two traits that emerged as winners.”Integrity and Intelligence”…in that order! Integrity is often used in a narrow context of honesty, when in fact it encompasses a complex framework of our value system.Like intelligence, it is visible in a person and shines through their consistent actions and words, consistency being the key word.
Intelligence on the other hand is defined as the “ability to perceive information, to retain it as knowledge and apply it towards adaptive behaviour in a given environment”.We find intelligent people everywhere, but the greatest challenge is to find the rare combination of integrity and intelligence where clearly ‘integrity’ scores several notches above as a core value which is above all else.
It is relevant at this juncture to mention the words of Henri Thoreau in “Civil disobedience” where he talks about principled resistance to authority.He argues that when a government or civil authority is immoral one must not obey it. Indeed, he says it is a person’s moral duty to a higher law to disobey.
1. Can integrity be acquired ? or is it inborn?
It is commonly understood that one is born with a level of intelligence which can be further cultivated by acquiring knowledge.But can integrity be acquired or cultivated? The popular belief is that you cannot teach or learn integrity,you either have it or you don’t; at best one can help oneself or another person to discover the level of integrity they already have. The other popular version which I believe in and which seems more practical and positive is that, one gets a chance everyday to shape their integrity by :
a) the natural boundaries that surround our values and stops us from violating our own integrity levels.
b) by trusted feedback on how a person perceives our actions.
c) assessing self integrity by assessing the level of commitment to oneself.
d) checking the consistency of one’s actions and words because credibility is built from the history of words and actions.
2. Doing vs Knowing:
‘Doing the right thing, even when no one is looking.’ Here’s a simple example of integrity in our every day life.
My office is located on the 10th floor of a commercial building which does not permit smoking in the landing area of the corridors. There is also a big board in bold letters re-iterating the fact. Yet I have seen people from the 10th floor standing there and smoking and littering the place. A few days ago , while I was passing the landing area , there were two youngsters from the neighbouring office standing there and smoking..So I asked one of them, “Is smoking permitted here ?” ..pointing to the board above her head .To which the lady replied rather unfalteringly ..”No, but we have seen many people smoking here.”
To me this is the definition of integrity (or the lack of it.). There are many definitions of integrity but it all boils down to just one thing..”Knowing is doing”
That is why operating with integrity is so vital for a business today. Personally, my choice of who I wish to do business with has a lot to do with how much I connect at a level bordering on “emotional integrity”...I have often noticed that if this element is lacking, the business fails over a period of time.In a business environment we find ourselves often falling into situations where we are forced to violate our own integrity levels. To be able to fight it and come out as a winner is what a true leader is all about.
DEMONSTRATING INTEGRITY IN BUSINESS: A FEW TRAITS
Starting with a brilliant quote of the Mahatma “There are seven things that will destroy us: Wealth without work; Pleasure without conscience; Knowledge without character; Religion without sacrifice; Politics without principle; Science without humanity; Business without ethics.”— Mahatma Gandhi
1.TAKING THE HIGH ROAD EVEN IF IT HURTS
Clearly any business is a revenue centre where the object is to maximize earnings.But when you rise above that and address the human side of it, the returns are phenomenal. High integrity is an advantage, it gives one a competitive edge over others.
It was my first year of business. In all earnest and eagerness , I had committed to the supply of an intermediate to a noted Pharmaceutical company in Bangalore.The next thing I heard was that there was a blast in the factory and the supplier was in no position to deliver.I made a trip all the way to a factory in a remote town in Shejiazhuang to see what I could do about it.There was a clear compensatory clause from both sides..But the supplier who was an intermediary said that he could do nothing except apologise to me as the factory had gone virtually on a minus.But when I came back with a heavy heart,I was a bit rattled to see that the supplier, had wired the money back to me from his personal funds!! We still have the strongest partnership going till date.
2. NOT GIVING IN TO SENSATIONALISM
Media –is an industry which is meant to serve people with highest level of integrity..There were times when the news on print was always a verified fact. But in today’s context , they are merely stories with a speculative side to it,the side which is left to the reader’s vivid imagination and delight. While they may cater to the group that is looking for such sensationalism, sadly it leaves the genuine interest groups disappointed at the quality of the press and at the way their fail to operate with integrity.However, it is heartening to see that despite a low readership and circulation , there are a few high quality publications which don’t run their stories without a 100% verification of facts..
3.MAKING PROMISES THAT YOU CAN KEEP
Outrageous promises can get you the initial business, but it is going to remain at the initial stage when the truth is out in the long run. In fact it does more damage than one can imagine when the promise is to address an emotional issue which touches a raw nerve.The Fairness cream industry in India was boycotted only recently while it has been in business for many years leading people to believe that fairness equals success. Ever since the boycott, it is heartening to see some of the FMCG companies removing the word “Fairness” from their campaign.
4.NO SHORT CUTS TO HARD WORK
Do you over deliver most of the time? You are likely to stay in business longer than your competitors..Businesses with integrity don’t cut corners. They add more value.Building a successful business is not done overnight. It requires energy..and the word “Energy” is used in the broadest sense..the energy which deals with failure, copes with disappointment, fights the odds and rises with hardwork .If there is one quality without which making a business successful is impossible , it is high energy.
5.REALISING THE VALUE OF YOUR TEAM
I read somewhere “treat your team members like dogs”...which means treat them with the same affection that you treat your family with, the dog is one of them..A leader is one who is respected by the team and who respects the team. Having started my career in a corporate organisation with scant respect for team members , the first thing I incorporated in my business team was that the basic respect that one is entitled to is not denied under any circumstances. A happy team is the most effective team and you can be sure if the team is unhappy , they will most likely not deliver.
6. VALUING EMOTIONAL INTEGRITY
Operating with integrity isn’t just good for you, but it raises the bar for other businesses within your industry as well.
It has never been a pleasant experience to deal with this particularsole manufacturer who enjoys complete monopoly in the market for a product. As an intermediary , I fight for the rights of the customer, which is infact my job. With little or no co-operation,we still continue with the supplier out of lack of an alternate source. Recently, the customer requested for a 5 kg ( of negligible value ) to be added to the last batch of supply as their batch size was short of 5 kgs, the manufacturer instantly said no.The reason being , the previously negotiated rate will not apply to the additional 5 kgs. To which the customer agreed to pay the difference, but the manufacturer still said he would not do it.At this point I intervened and told the manufacturer that I would like to exit from this business as there is no basic human value in it.Two days later he came back with a positive nod to the 5 kgs!!
Integrity is a choice, business or otherwise..and it is a personalized choice which no one can influence. It is nothing but an act of courage.